Thursday, April 30, 2009

Out of touch


Do the authorities really understand the needs of the disabled?

HAVE you had one of those mornings when you wake up and the first thing that you read in the newspapers is a really silly remark that is bound to get everyone upset?

Well, last week was one such occasion.

A front-page story in a local newspaper on April 22 quoted the Welfare Department as saying that Malaysians with disabilities who come under the very poor category wanting aid of RM150 a month won’t be qualified to get it if they have Astro.

The guideline is said to apply even for someone who lives in another person’s house, whether temporarily or otherwise.

In other words, those who came up with such a ruling seem to think that the disabled who can afford pay TV are not poor. And, according to them, welfare aid should only be given to those requiring food, clothing and shelter, and certainly never for entertainment.

This reminds me of a similar situation a few weeks ago that had disabled dog owners howling in protest.

A local council decided against giving disabled residents free dog licences. The reason for doing so was purportedly to “teach the handicapped about the need for administration costs”.

They reckoned that if a disabled person can keep a dog, why can’t he pay RM10 a year?

It makes me wonder how truly in touch are the authorities with what people with disabilities go through daily in their lives, and especially in their homes which are often concealed from the public eye.

Take, for example, a man who became disabled following a car crash a few months ago, and is suffering from depression. Why would he want to learn about processing fees when he is thinking about ending his life?

Becoming paralysed for life is never an easy thing to accept. It is especially hard for those who have been very independent.

Not only does disability rob a person of his dignity to do things for himself, the situation often results in the disabled losing his job as well.

Despite the Welfare Department’s noble efforts in trying to help disabled Malaysians find jobs so that they can be self-sufficient, not many people want to hire the handicapped.

Many people are still bound by negative stereotypes about the disabled. Life is especially hard for the bedridden. Many of them hardly have any opportunity to go out.

Quite a few of them have no one strong enough to carry them out of their beds and back again.

They have to depend on others for everything. Their only “entertainment” is often to stare at the four walls of their room.

For those who have pets, these pets serve to divert them from their depression. By stroking and bonding with their pets, the disabled receive unconditional love and acceptance.

In the area of entertainment, Astro offers the disabled a window to the outside world and keeps them updated on what is happening around the world.

It is important for disabled Malaysians who are locked inside their homes to realise they are not alone in their struggles.

I have watched health shows which offer the latest information on all types of disabilities. Such information is helpful to the handicapped.

Watching how others cope with their disabilities and live positive lives in other countries, helps motivate people with handicaps in our country.

Even the blind “watch” TV. I know many who tune in daily to international news channels on pay TV to keep abreast of news-breaking events around the world.

Isn’t access to information and education also a basic human right? Would the Welfare Department stop aid for disabled people with computers and Internet access as well?

Something is obviously very wrong with the guideline. Instead of appearing to crack down on the helpless disabled poor, the Welfare Department should really be working hard to help all disabled persons in Malaysia to have such facilities.

The department should engage in talks with Astro to provide free subscription to the disabled as part of the company’s social responsibility.

On the day that the article came out, about 20 disabled people in wheelchairs – including me – met up with Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalilf.

She promised us that she would look into the matter and come up with realistic solutions to our problems.

Sources: The Star

Friday, April 17, 2009

An avenue to raise funds for the needy

GENTING’s annual community fund-raising event was launched by guest of honour Puan Sri Cecilia Lim – the wife of chairman and chief executive of Genting Berhad, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay at the First World Plaza on April 10.

A total of 11 charity organisations were invited to exhibit their home and fund-raising items at First World Plaza for three consecutive weekends, on April 11-12, April 18-19 and April 25-26.

This year 11 charity organisations will be taking up booths at the specially set-up exhibition area at First World Plaza. The organisations are Rumah Amal Cheshire Selangor, Mouth & Foot Painting Artists Sdn Bhd, Salaam Wanita, Rumah Orang Asli Che Wong, Women’s Aid Organisation and International Relief Organisation, Pusat Jagaan Insan Istimewa, Pusat Majudiri Y for the Deaf, The Truly Loving Company, Malaysian Association for the Blind and Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled.

Also present at the launching ceremony were Resorts World Bhd chief operating officer Thuy Trinh, senior vice-president of PR & Communi-cations Datuk Anthony Yeo, senior vice-president of hotel operations Edward Holloway, vice-president of PR & Commu-nications Katherine Chew and other management staff.

Quaint: Cecilia Lim (second from left) looking at some of the rattan baskets on display at one of the booths set up at the exhibition area at First World Plaza.

The guest of honour was greeted by an opening dance specially performed by the residents from Rumah Orang Asli Che Wong from Lanchang, Pahang.

“The fund-raising is organised with the hope that we can help these homes and organisations by creating awareness among the public about the less privileged. In addition, we also hope the public will buy the handmade items,” said Yeo.

Among the attractions are hand woven baskets, bracelets, rings and plates by the Che Wong orang asli community, books on deaf sign language, key chains, bookmarks from the Pusat Majudiri Y for the Deaf, rattan basket making demonstration and sale at the Malaysia Blind Association’s booth, home care products at the Truly Loving Company booth, souvenir items at the International Relief centre and Pusat Jagaan Insan Istimewa, handmade stuffed dolls and jewellery at the Cheshire Home’s booth, specially woven baskets and bags made of magazine papers from Salaam Wanita and paintings by Ng Ah Kwai at the mouth and foot artists section.

Genting – City Of Entertainment invites all Malaysians to come to the hilltop resort and support these charity bodies in their effort to raise funds for the poor and the underprivileged.

Sources: The Star

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Have a heart


Disabled and elderly dog owners are upset by MBPJ’s decision not to waive the dog licence fee.

APRIL 1 turned out to be a disappointing day for pet lovers. It was reported in the newspapers that the Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ), in a majority decision, had chosen not to grant free dog licences to handicapped and elderly residents.

A proposal was put forward to the council to offer a full fee waiver for disabled pet lovers, and a 50% discount for all elderly persons in PJ.

(Currently dog owners in PJ pay RM10 annually for their pets. Only the Shah Alam City Council offers such relief to the disabled and elderly.)

The proposal was meant to offer some relief and support for persons whose pets play an integral role in their lives. The proposal came from handicapped and elderly members of Petpositive, an animal-assisted therapy society where I serve as president.

It has the backing of several disability and animal NGOs, namely, the Independent Living and Training Centre in Rawang, Selangor, the Malaysian Parkinson’s Disease Association in Kuala Lumpur, and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Selangor.

The move raises an important question about how local councils operate. When decisions that affect the lives of disabled persons are made, do our local governments ensure that they consult the disabled before they give the go-ahead?

And in this particular situation, not just any disabled person but the handicapped and the elderly who are receiving animal-assisted therapy.

Dogs possess an uncanny ability to help the disabled to lead positive lives. In so doing, the handicapped are able to achieve a better quality of life. This has been proven by medical experts and researchers.

Do those who make such decisions take the trouble to visit the homes of individuals with disabilities to see these wonderful canines in action?

Do decision-makers know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair? Or what it’s like to soil their pants because they have a weak bladder or poor bowel control (or both) as a result of an accident or illness?

As for the able-bodied who have dogs, are they dependent on their pets for therapy the way people in wheelchairs, the blind and the deaf are?

Take, for example, wheelchair users Sue Chen and her husband who own two dogs which they regard as their children. They don’t make much money so they have to share what’s on their table when they dine, with their pets.

“Every sen counts,” said the couple. “Besides, it would save us the hassle of travelling to the local authorities’ office and joining the long queues just to get our licences renewed.

“The taxi fare to the local council and back is almost three times the cost of the licence. Having our dogs greet us in the morning and follow us everywhere gives us a sense of acceptance, belonging and security,” they explained.

JK is another example of how animal-assisted therapy can make a difference. He was bedridden recently following an accident and now spends his time looking at the four walls of his room. His only pal is a puppy that was introduced to him recently.

The puppy is doing wonders for JK; he is starting to focus on his new friend instead of dwelling on his misery.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our respective councils could show some care and compassion by appreciating the special role of canines, and be mindful of the hardships the disabled face?

Sources: The Star

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Wonder cleaner


Enthusiasts claim that garbage enzyme works its magic indoors and outdoors. But not everyone is convinced of its benefits.

IT IS every housewife’s dream – a multipurpose cleaner that is all-natural, environment- friendly, non-toxic, free of synthetic chemicals and best of all, can be made from kitchen scraps.

Sounds too good to be true, right? But many who have made and used this cleaner swear by it. Making this wonder cleaner merely involves fermenting kitchen waste with brown sugar and water for three months. The resulting brown, vinegary solution is commonly called garbage enzyme and is diluted with water for use – and it appears to be able to work miracles.

Testimonies on its uses appear endless: to do the dishes and laundry, mop the floor, scrub the toilet and bathroom, remove stubborn stains, for body care, as deodoriser and antiseptic and to clear blockages in pipes and drains. It will even repel ants, mosquitoes, cockroaches, lizards.

Using citrus fruit waste will lend a pleasant scent to the garbage enzyme.

In farms, garbage enzymes have found use as a natural pesticide, herbicide, fertiliser and odour remover, and is also added to animal feed to improve digestion of livestock. And in the garden, it will make your plants flourish, bloom and fruit. Prisca Loke can testify to that. “Because of my busy schedule, I never had time to take care of my plants and they looked horrible. But after I sprayed them with garbage enzymes, they grew lush and started flowering. That converted me into a garbage enzyme user,” says the assistant human resource manager.

Loke now relies on garbage enzymes for many of her household chores. She finds it effective in removing grease from pots and pans and kitchen counters, as well as stubborn stains from her children’s white school shirts (she soaks them in diluted enzyme solution before the normal laundering).

Most of what she knows is from experimenting and sharing experience with friends.

“I could not find any scientific analysis on the enzyme on the Internet but from my personal experience and talking with friends, I find that the enzyme is useful.”

She has tried fermenting different fruit wastes since all will produce different enzymes, and some might be more effective for certain tasks than others. Ever willing to share her knowledge, Loke has given demonstrations on enzyme-making to her colleagues at Sunrise Bhd and residents of Sunrise Mont Kiara in Kuala Lumpur.

Enzyme evangelists

Dr Joean Oon uses diluted enzyme solution to clean vegetables.

Poultry seller Tan Yew Leong has also turned enzyme-advocate after seeing how it has reduced foul odours emanating from the Section 17 market in Petaling Jaya, Selangor .

“The market used to smell as the council only cleans it once a week or once a month by spraying water. Since we started spraying the enzyme (diluted with water) daily, it is not so smelly and there are fewer flies. The drains are also cleaner,” says Tan who has been making full use of vegetable and fruit discards at the market.

His home is filled with about 100 tanks, both big and small, of fermenting waste.

“Some other hawkers are also making the enzyme themselves after seeing its effectiveness,” says Tan, who provides free enzyme for cleansing of the market. He also sells the solution by the bottles but thinks it best that people make it themselves as they would reduce their waste.

Tan uses the enzyme liberally at home. “About 70% of the cleaning at home is now done using the enzyme, for mopping the floor and cleaning the toilets and bathroom. My family has reduced the use of chemicals and there are no more cockroaches in my house,” says the satisfied user.

The benefits of garbage enzymes is said to extend beyond the home. Apparently, when enzyme-laced wastewater flows down kitchen sinks and bathroom pipes, it supposedly continues to work its magic in drains, sewers and eventually, streams and rivers. This idea has spurred a project to get some 10,000 households in Petaling Jaya to produce their own garbage enzyme for home use.

The Danish-funded project by Section 19 Residents Association, Justlife (an organic food chain) and Beautiful Gate Foundation for the Disabled, will see enzyme-making demonstrations for residents’ associations and other community groups in the next five months. In Thailand, households’ use of garbage enzymes is said to have helped keep some streams clean.

“When people use the enzyme to clean dishes and do the laundry, the discharged water will finally end up in ponds and streams, so indirectly cleaning up the water bodies,” says Lee Lih Shyan, senior assistant director of the Local Agenda 21 programme at Petaling Jaya City Council. This approach benefits the environment more than that of pouring drums of garbage enzymes into ponds and rivers to cleanse the water bodies as practised by some communities in Penang. Lee says cleaning up ponds and rivers this way is an exercise in futility if pollution is not stemmed at the source.

“Such efforts will not be effective unless there is a group producing the enzyme in large quantities and continuously pouring it into the river. There is no point in doing it once or twice,” he says.

Where is the science

But exactly how and why this miraculous solution works is unclear. Even its advocates can’t quite explain the science behind it.

“There have been tests done but all the information is in Thai. I do not have the resources to get them translated into English or to research into how it works. And I’m not a chemist, so I don’t know how to explain it.

All I can say is that people have used it, and it works,” says Penang-based naturopathy practitioner Dr Joean Oon, Oon had learnt about garbage enzymes from its originator, Dr Rosukon Poompanvong, a pioneer of Thailand’s organic farming movement and a Food and Agriculture Organisation award recipient for her work in using fermented organic waste for crop fertilisation, pest protection and livestock feed.

Scientists spoken to say it is the microorganisms present in waste that produce the enzymes. The fermentation produces acetic acid, characterised by its vinegary smell, and it is the acid that gives the solution its cleaning prowess; vinegar, after all, is a traditional household cleaner.

The usefulness of enzymes has long been known. Enzymes act as catalysts – they increase the rates of chemical reactions.

In the human body, enzymes help in digestion and other bodily functions.

In wastewater treatment, enzymes accelerate decomposition of organic substances.

Enzymes have also found their way into commercial goods: in detergents, they improve the cleaning performance while in cleaning solutions, they eat away organic material that clog up pipes.

While the cleansing ability of garbage enzymes can be explained, claims on its other abilities seem pretty far-fetched – for instance, its role in repairing the ozone layer and in reducing global warming. Its proponents say ozone generated by the enzyme solution will bind with heavy metals in the air to reduce global warming. The ozone will also react with other elements such as nitrogen and sulphur to form nitrates and sulphates, which make good plant nutrients.

The science behind these claims, however, is sketchy. It does not help that the few documents available from Oon have been poorly translated into English from Thai. In Internet chat groups, some have censured the claims, especially the one about repairing the ozone hole. It is argued that ground-level ozone is unstable and will break into oxygen before it has any chance to migrate to the stratosphere (10 to 48km above sea level) to form the beneficial ozone layer that prevents harmful UV radiation from reaching the Earth.

Also, ground-level ozone (it results when nitrogen oxides and organic gases, emitted by automobiles and industrial sources, react with air) is a toxic gas and irritant, and causes smog. In recent technologies, ozone is used to disinfect water as well as sterilise air and certain foods but the amount of ozone produced in garbage enzymes is so low that it would have little effectiveness.

Possible toxins

Sewerage plants do rely on beneficial bacteria to break down waste but no one knows for sure if the flushing of garbage enzymes down the toilet, as advocated by its proponents, would not lead to ill effects in the long term.

Likewise, flooding lakes and rivers with enzymes might be harmful if too much is used – it might well deplete oxygen levels in the water due to higher organic matter. Also, the anaerobic fermentation involved (the enzyme is made in an air-tight container) will release methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Dr P. Agamuthu, a professor in waste management at Universiti Malaya, has questions too regardin g garbage enzyme. That the solution is beneficial for plants does not surprise him as it is rich in nutrients from the sugar.

However, he is wary about using the solution in the shower and to wash dishes and food. “Since it involves fermentation of waste, there might be pathogens in the mixture. In normal composting of solid waste which is water-free, temperatures can reach to 65°C to 70°C, and this will destroy most pathogens. Fermentation, however, will never reach this temperature, especially when water is added.”

He is uncertain if it is the enzymes, or other chemicals that are doing the job. To clear these doubts, Agamuthu intends to conduct his own tests with the enzyme to see what it contains and its effect on plants and soil.

Following the barrage of criticisms, Oon has decided to stop linking garbage enzymes with ozone depletion and global warming – but only because she is stumped when asked to explain the scien ce. She adds that she does not urge people to pour the enzymes into rivers to clean waterways – that was done initially just to create an activity and to promote public awareness.

Sincere in wanting to encourage green practices, she now expounds on only one aspect of garbage enzymes: “It makes good use of kitchen waste which would otherwise end up in landfills and generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It is something that housewives can do. And the enzyme also reduces our reliance on chemical cleaners, detergent and fertilisers.”

Ambiguities aside, the garbage enzyme movement has found quite a following and many attest to its efficacy. Still, until more tests are done on its contents and long-term effects, it might be wise to use it judiciously.

Sources: The Star